By: Kayti Baur, MSc Candidate in Community Health and Epidemiology
Samiah Alam, a student in Dalhousie’s Masters of Community Health and Epidemiology program, was the second student to be awarded one of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarships (QES) to study in Tanzania in the summer of 2019. We sat down with Samiah to hear about her goals, work, and experiences during her time in there.
Samiah entered the program with a strong desire to learn about global health in general, partially because her degree in epidemiology can be quite strongly associated with global health issues. Additionally, as a volunteer doula here in Halifax, Samiah had developed a particular interest in maternal and newborn health that she hoped to explore this during her time in Dar es Salaam. To this end, Samiah was placed at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, a university associated with the national hospital for Tanzania, doing maternal health research.
The primary objective of Samiah’s practicum was to design and write a proposal to understand the community and the midwives’ perception of humanizing birth care. When she arrived, Samiah worked in the nursing department of the hospital and was originally intending to take on a purely qualitative study. However, because she felt she didn’t have all the background skills necessary to jump directly into a purely qualitative role, she decided work on a systematic review and as well as a mixed methods approach proposal on this topic while in Tanzania. She felt maintaining a qualitative thread throughout the work was important, as it allowed a connection with the people rather than just scientific fact, and she found it increased personal significance of project for her. Although her role changed from her initial goal once she arrived in Tanzania, she still feels she got a lot out of the experience, and that the experts at the university were able to offer considerable knowledge in her area of interest.
For Samiah, a huge part of what she enjoyed about her placement was the experience of Tanzanian culture. She found it very different from our own Canadian lifestyle, noting that it was very community oriented. Everyone was very open, accepting and friendly, even to the point where simply walking down the street could involve several greetings and friendly interactions with other members of the community.
“Everyone would always smile say hi in a very different way than we say ‘Hi, how are you?’ here. They were all involved with everyone in the community’s lives.” Samiah says.
Feeling this sense of being part of a larger community was important to Samiah and was a highly valued part of her experience.
When asked about a particular time during her trip that stood out for her, Samiah again brought up the experience of different cultures, this time surrounding Ramadan and the Muslim Eid holidays, one of which she spent in Dar es Salaam and the other in Zanzibar. Being in Tanzania during Ramadan, Samiah was able to go to nightly prayer with locals in the area and was invited to many of their homes. She went to visit three families, even spent the night with one. Moreover, the Eid was an official two-day holiday in Tanzania, leading to a much bigger and joyous occasion. However, Samiah notes that Zanzibar really came to life during the Eid. Although she didn’t get to visit any individuals, it was fun to be in a large city where the whole place was celebrating the holiday, as opposed to most places in Canada where many don’t even take the day off work. She talks fondly of seeing kids lined up at shops waiting to get treats during the festivities, and shopkeepers who knew the neighbourhood children coming to pass them out. A familiar, but unique experience of the holiday.
Overall, Samiah thoroughly enjoyed her summer spent in Tanzania, but suggests anyone going to work in the University environment make sure to have some foundation in the area or methodology they wish to work in because even having just the basics down already means you are able to absorb so much more from the experts at the university, instead of having to spend your time on things you could learn at home. “You would gain more out of the experience and make it more productive for both parties.”, she says. However, she believes that the placement directors are very helpful and will ensure you have an enjoyable and productive time during your stay.
For more information on the Queen Elizabeth Scholars Opportunities click here.